|John and Gerry's Orchids of Britain and Europe|
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D. purpurella was first described by Stephenson and Stephenson from North Wales in 1920 and its name refers to the characteristic purplish colour of the inflorescence.
This is an extremely variable species even by Dactylorhiza standards and genetic introgression by other members of the genus can sometimes make positive identification difficult. Several established hybrids have been formally named including that with D. fuchsii , this frequent cross being known as D x venusta . The range of D. purpurella is restricted to the Atlantic shores of Northern Europe from Britain through to Denmark and Scandinavia. Recent research has now determined that in the UK the species, always known from Scotland, Ireland and north Wales has a more southerley distribution than had originally been thought, having recently been discovered to be well established (albeit in limited numbers) on some dune systems in South Wales and in just a few isolated inland outposts in southern England.
D. purpurella, commonly known as the Northern Marsh Orchid has similar habitat preferences to its close Tetraploid relative D. praetermissa (the Southern Marsh Orchid) and it is quite possible to find the two species, together with intermediates, growing side by side in areas of distribution overlap.
The most significant feature when identifying this plant is colouration, which in pure plants is nearly always vivid, deep purple with a noticeably contrasting white stigmatic area. The lip displays a characteristic diamond shape but other features such as plant size and leaf markings are much less reliable. The pictures come from Newborough Warren, Anglesey and Ainsdale Sands, Lancashire, dating from mid June and early July.